The Agriculture Department is partnering with 31 state attorneys general to look more closely into anticompetitive practices in the food and agriculture sectors as part of a broader White House initiative to promote marketplace competition.

The partnership is meant to give state officials more investigative resources and coordinate state and federal efforts to crack down on anticompetitive practices.

The agencies will focus their efforts on anticompetitive market structures and practices like price gouging, a lack of producer and consumer choices, conflicts of interest and misuse of intellectual property, according to a USDA press release.

“By placing necessary resources where they are needed most and helping states identify and address anticompetitive and anti-consumer behavior, in partnership with federal authorities, through these cooperative agreements we can ensure a more robust and competitive agricultural sector,” Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release.

The initiative is one of several matters on the agenda at a Wednesday meeting of the White House Competition Council.

USDA will also partner with the Center for State Enforcement of Antitrust and Consumer Protection Laws, a nonprofit organization that offers training and resources to state attorneys general. The two organizations, USDA said in a release, will establish an “oversight committee to establish the project governance and transparency standards for the partnership” as well as an advisory committee for reviewing project requests.

The USDA has also looked to the American Antitrust Institute as an additional resource.

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USDA is also formally establishing its Farmer Seed Liaison initiative, which seeks to help farmers and plant growers navigate a “complex seed system.” The department will create a “web resource” to allow farmers to search patents related to common crop types. The agency will also allow people to submit complaints related to the seed market.

Under the White House effort, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division are also updating their merger guidelines. The 13 draft guidelines, which will go through a public comment process, guide the agencies in determining whether a merger is “unlawfully anticompetitive” under antitrust laws, according to a joint press release from the two agencies.

“As markets and commercial realities change, it is vital that we adapt our law enforcement tools to keep pace so that we can protect competition in a manner that reflects the intricacies of our modern economy,” Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the Antitrust Division said in a press release. “Simply put, competition today looks different than it did 50 — or even 15 — years ago.”

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